The serious writer of today lives in a very much secularized world, a world of measurable objects, a world of space and time considerations, a world that must be studied not only rationally, but scientifically. Now, this situation did not suddenly come about in the middle of the seventeenth century. It has been developing since that time, and I think if we wanted to be very careful we could push it far back of the seventeenth century. But many people agree that a very important part of the process becomes evident in the seventeenth century.

An important man in this process is the French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes (1596–1650). Descartes distinguished, you will remember, the mind from matter, and thus split the world into two different realms. On one side there was the realm of mental activity, the world of ideas, fancies, and all kinds of subjective things. And outside of the human head was the world of objects and things. God alone, Descartes thought, knew how to relate the two worlds, the world of time and space and the world of mental activity. And Descartes, it ought to be said, certainly had no intention of removing God from the process (he was a Christian), or of attacking a religion. Nevertheless, the dualism that Descartes set up worked steadily through the decades to clear the path for a more careful study of the world of things. It cleared the highway for the marvelous development of the so-called hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology. They have grown magnificently, particularly in our own twentieth century.

Think, for instance, how fast and how far chemistry and physics have gone since even 1915, how far medical science has gone since 1900. I am convinced that if it had not been for these wonderful developments and changes, I would have been blind long before this time, and probably dead. So I have a real personal gratitude to register for the marvelous things that have happened in the hard sciences.

We do not operate on a person’s body because of hunches and blind instincts. We used to. I’m told sometimes we do it now, but we try to avoid it as much as possible. Instead, we try to examine the body, make the most meticulous of tests, so as to know what we’re doing when we perform the operation. We develop the tools and machines that allow us to make incredibly finer measurements.

Continue Reading on